Lamont and Dude Discuss Short Fiction

“Just a splinter off the old block.”

“What did you say?”

“Little Chuck. Just like his dad, er…”

“It’s ‘chip off the old block’ you idiot.

“I can do what I want with the clichés I use, you linguistic totalitarian. I’m an artiste.”

“Oh brother. What IS that?”

“A story about a kid named Chuck who’s the spitting image of his dad but a LOT smaller.”

“Why do I even talk to you?”

“Beats me.”

“So what else about this story?”

“Well, the thing is, Chuck isn’t even a guy.”

“Oh god, now we’re doing some LGBTQXZ snore fest?”

“What if I were? But no, you see, Chuck is actually Charlene.”

“OK, so is Chuck an Olympic champion?”

“No, stupid. Charlene is a marmot, specifically Marmota monax.”

“So is ‘Little Chuck’ actually ‘Little Charlene’?”

“No, dumbass. It’s when Charlene shows up at the end of January or the beginning of February — I’m leaving that to the readers’ imagination — with Little Chuck all the other marmots go, ‘Whoa, dude, Chuck is like, you know, Charlene’. That’s the turning point of the story.”

“Not much of a story. What made you think you were a writer?”

“I dunno. I just got inspired. It’s an uplifting story about courage in the face of adversity.”

“What adversity?”

Winter. Good god, Lamont. Are you paying attention AT ALL or are you stuck in some Pleistocene revery???”

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Crestone Studio Tour

First, my foot did fine, and I didn’t wear the heavy hiking boots. It struck me I need to break them in before I head out for a day. I wore my light hiking high topped boots and they were perfect. The cane was very helpful, and I even went up and down stairs, walked on uneven terrain. I walked 3/4 of a mile. 🙂 I only felt pain when I had to stand for a while, BUT during those moments, there was a dog named Max who hung out with me and relieved the pain by being a dog.

We had lunch at a pretty new cafe called “Food is Art.” I had a health food meal straight out of On the Road though I think Kerouac usually had apple pie and ice cream. I went for the next best.

The menu was typical of this arty-farty somewhat cosmopolitan town with things like Thai chicken tacos. The cafe was cute, the people friendly and all was well.

We then proceeded to look for some place we could get the catalog of the show and finally went to the townhall. A very nice man was freezing inside working on a computer. It was a lot warmer outside. We got the catalogs and all went out together. The deer had been feasting on the plum tree beside the building and the evidence of their high fiber diet was all over the lawn. There was, also, in a juniper tree, a very amazing nest made of juniper branches.

No idea who made this but they did good work. Possibly the juniper titmouse.

From there we went to the gallery where I met a woman I liked very much, Jennifer Thomson. I loved her paintings, too. We had a great conversation artist to artist which isn’t always easy. When it happens, I savor it. She had a painting of a Swiss mountain I would have bought if I had any money. She told us how it came to be — it was a painting she did as a student and she told us about those days in her life. The painting below is gouache and seeds and ink — it’s really spectacular in real life

She also teaches art and I bought her workbook — I don’t know that I will do it as a workbook, but it has many of her paintings in it and a lot of her philosophy. She was influenced by Goethe’s theory of colors so, you know…

From there we went to see the work of a quilter, then a photographer (by mistake) named Peter Ismert. He had an amazing photo of Shriver/Wright along the Rio Grande, (where I love to take the dogs) at night, under the Milky Way. The photo took my breath away. I got his card. Maybe he has a small copy. 🙂

From there we went to a house that had three — maybe four? — artists. The one that struck me most died five years ago, the wife of one of the artists I met today. Her name is Robin Ross and her work is mysterious and beautiful, I think. You can learn more about her here.

I especially liked this one:

Coyote Blue

She had written a poem to go with it, but to me it sounded — I mean the painting sounded — like a poem by Paul Valery:

“Patience, patience,
patience in the blue.
In every atom of silence
Is the chance for ripe fruit.”

Patient, patience,
Patience dans l’azur!
Chaque atome de silence
Est la chance d’un fruit mûr!

Crestone itself is an interesting town — dilapidated buildings city-dwelling lovers of western movies would think were a set from a film nestle beside art galleries and yurts. This eclecticism and art is backed up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains which I really saw today for the first time. I don’t have a great photo, but they go something like this:

Artists in the Family

“You have to do like this,” my brother holds up John Gnagy’s book, Learn to Draw that we’d gotten for Christmas. It was part of a kit with pencils, charcoal, a blender (a paper pencil like thing pointed at the end), a eraser, a sandpaper pencil sharpener, a plastic pencil sharpener and some paper.

Gnagy was on TV, too, but we didn’t watch much TV. Parental controls were parents saying, “No, God dammit.”

I looked at the cone my brother was copying from the book, the early pages where Gnagy was teaching about shading.

“You have to see where the light comes from. That’s how you get three dimensions.”

My brother was always able to talk about art in this kind of way, theoretically, abstractly. I couldn’t, can’t, don’t and am seriously frightened by it. I don’t know what kind of artist I am, but not the theory to reality type.

The kit ended up my brother’s. At that point I saw myself as a future designer of women’s clothing and that’s what I was drawing. I also got a Barbie doll that year (1964) and had discovered sewing clothes for her was a lot of fun. I was also painting in oils, landscapes from my mind.

The interesting thing is that my brother was a cartoonist from the very beginning, but he understood how “real” art was important to cartooning. Somewhere inside he wanted to be a “real” artist and he did some amazing “real” paintings, but there was always something missing from them. At heart he was a story teller but needed a page of squares to tell the story. His painting hero was Howard Pyle whose paintings definitely tell stories.

Years later, when we were both in our late twenties, walking on a snowy Denver street near my mom’s house, I got some useful advice from my brother. I had just taken down my one-woman show at Cafe Nepenthes in Denver. My brother didn’t seem to think much of the show — it wasn’t his “thing,” or, maybe, he was jealous. I don’t know. Artists in a family that doesn’t support art? Well, friction is inevitable. He said I was an “abstract expressionist” (which I had to look up, later, in my book, The Shock of the New) and he said my paintings were flat, lacking depth (that damned shadow thing again). I’d sold $1000+ which I don’t think my brother ever did.

Here’s one of the paintings from that show — not really a Modigliani knock-off.

At that point, I was taking a break from painting and was doing linoleum cuts having seen Picasso’s in the National Gallery earlier that month. I was talking to my brother about them and what I was trying to do. I explained how I felt making art was responding to a divine impulse. I told him how I was having a little trouble with the knives I used to carve my linoleum. “It’s easier if the linoleum is warm,” I said.

His response, “Well, Martha Ann, if you want to talk to God you have to play Black Sabbath backwards at 78 and you need some emery paper, honey.”

Fast-forward 20 some years to San Diego. My brother and his then wife came to visit from Northern California. On my wall was a “thing” I’d spent the whole summer making. It was the dark summer of my mental breakdown, but the products were pretty nice.

“Did you do that?” my brother asked.

“How I spent my summer vacation, Kirk.”

“Dammit, Martha Ann. You ARE an artist.”

He wasn’t entirely happy about that, either.

Hippy Fords of July

One of my favorite cartoons done by my brother depicts me, Aunt Martha and him in the backseat of our car. It’s supposed to be an afternoon we all — and my mom — went up on the Gold Camp Road near Colorado Springs to look at the golden aspen. In real life, my Aunt Martha was driving. She kept looking in the rearview mirror and saw my brother reading a comic book instead of looking out the window. She would then yell at him to “Look at the aspen!!!” My brother might not have put my Aunt Martha in the driver’s seat, but he accurately depicted the sense of the day and each of our personalities.

A cartoon my brother did for my Aunt Martha’s 80th birthday

The Foot

Excepting a couple of trips to the store, I haven’t been away from my house in 10 days, not since I reinjured my foot. This doesn’t mean I’ve stayed off my foot, though. A couple of days ago I raked leaves and covered the garden and there are chores. I’m not a sedentary person by nature or inclination. Luckily — as I’ve written before — my main form of exercise is a stationary bike, fondly dubbed The Bike to Nowhere or I’d be stark raving mad by now.

It puzzles me that I don’t need more human interaction — but I think some of that is supplied by the Internet, this blog, Facebook and talking on the phone with friends.

I’ve accomplished a lot — set up the book launch party for Baby Duck. Designed a 3 fold brochure advertising all of my books that are in the Narrow Gauge Bookstore in Alamosa where the event will be held. Made a complex slide show as entertainment for said event. Planned the party — and the party favors. All that’s left is going to the store and dealing with the physical logistics. I’m having the party while the store is open. Why not? There are not so many people in this valley that the place will be packed with humanity AND anyone who goes there is interested in books. My goal is to get the word out that I write pretty OK most of the time and would like to sell books.

BUT…my friend Elizabeth is, I think, maybe, a little concerned for the state of my mental health. That’s fine with me. She’s a wise person, and I both trust and love her. We’re going out into the world tomorrow to the mountain town of Crestone in the Sangre de Cristos, the mountains on the east side of the San Luis Valley. I have only been there once and never in the town itself, but to a very lovely hot spring, Valley View which, among other things, is the only place in Colorado where you can see fireflies as well as an amazing collection of bats.

Crestone is famous as a spiritual center, and there are probably more religions practiced formally there than in most places in the world. There are many artists and the goal tomorrow is a studio tour. The term “spiritual center” always leaves me a little edgy and bewildered. Is there any place on this earth that is NOT a spiritual center? It strikes me that this whole planet is as holy and sacred as anything could possibly be, not to mention the universe that contains it, but yeah. I just have to shrug things off. BUT the Episcopal church in Crestone is a log cabin which is pretty cool.

I have hiking boots and I will wear them to splint the bad foot, but I’ll take a pair of shoes in case the boots prove more than I can handle.

I got them on eBay. I wanted old-school leather hiking boots like those I wore for years and NEVER injured my feet. My boots — those I have had for a while — are serious mountaineering boots and weigh about 3 pounds each. Way more boot than I will ever need again in my life. The boots arrived yesterday, like new, Italian leather boots, but stiff and a lot heavier than approach shoes or trail-running shoes which I’ve been wearing since the early 2000s. We’ll see. I will also take my cane which will help me take weight off my hurt foot, and the deal is that if I can’t stand it, we’ll come home.

Resilience – Bouncing Back

Another thought-provoking, well-written and intense blog post by Robin. Any of us who ended up with a messed up family can take much away from Robin’s thoughts here. ❤

Living on the Circumference - Finding the Center


According to the American Psychological Association: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. …. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. …. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.”

Part One – A Family Story

In my late teens, my father abandoned our family, or as I like to say; he ran away from home. On the day it happened, I was out for the day and didn’t come home until late in the evening. My mother greeted me at the door with questions about whether I knew where…

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Tech Rave

I’m thankful for presentation software, in particular, Keynote, with which I can integrate images and music — or narration — and then POP! project it on a television screen, turn it into a video, send it to Youtube.

For most of my life, such a thing was impossible. With my long ago speech (1969/70) about protecting the environment I had a carousel of slides and me standing there speaking. In another presentation, for which I wanted a soundtrack, I had to buy a bunch of LPS to get ONE song from each and record each one on a tape — reel-to-reel. Truth.

Even in 2004 it wasn’t easy. I was slated to give a “paper” at a conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero,” and I wrote a paper on the heroes in Fellini films. The paper was titled “Old Half Head.” There was no way I could see to give a “paper” about films without SHOWING clips from films. They are equivalent to quotations in a paper about poetry. And, if you’e ever been to an academic conference you KNOW how often presenters just read from the pile of paper they published in the proceedings. B-O-R-I-N-G. I didn’t want to do that. Beyond that, I like a creative challenge.

The ability to translate from Keynote (a Mac program) to Powerpoint did not yet exist, and since one never knew what platform they’d be using in a distant place, Powerpoint was safer. I was also able to get MS Office for free back in the day when I was teaching. I made the Powerpoint and attempted to integrate film clips from my DVDs of Fellini’s films. Some of the films were pretty obscure, and none of the evidentiary scenes was very long.

There was no way. I tried everything I knew, every bit of technology at my disposal at the time. I mentioned this to my class — upper division Business Communication students. I know when most people think about business communication, they think of letters, memos and all that stuff, but in these days it involves a wider range of media, AND some of my students were in the computer division of the College of Business. A couple of them volunteered to do this for me. They had the wherewithal, machines (!!!) that could extract video clips and embed them in PowerPoint.

“Wow,” I thought, and said, “I wish I could do that.” They were so jazzed that they could help the professor, and the class wanted to see the show when it was finished. I said, “It’s going to bore the shit out of you guys. It’s really not up your alley,” but they insisted and it DID bore the shit out of them. It also revealed a side of me that made them a little uncomfortable. “If she likes this arty-farty Italian stuff, how can she teach BUSINESS???”

Academia revels in artificial dichotomies.

It’s still not easy to capture clips from a DVD, but there are ways in which I can do it. Very often someone somewhere has put 2 minutes of perfection on Youtube. Youtube didn’t exist in 2004. By the time I left teaching, I could create a narrated slideshow — which I did many times for my students in online classes. These lectures are still there and have a fanbase of 133 people. Sometimes I get a thank you message from a student who’s benefited.

Putting together promotional media for As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder has been so much fun, almost like painting. I was able to create a slideshow, upload it directly to Youtube and add a soundtrack of free music.

For the book launch, I put 100 of my slides into 10 minute slide show that plays with THE song that evokes my year in China, Jean Michel Jarre’s “Fishing Junks at Sunset.” Jarre performed in China in 1981, a year before I was there. I found it in a record shop in Hong Kong and bought a cassette tape we could play in our apartment in Guangzhou. CDs had just come onto the market and I think the Concerts in China might have been the first CD I bought, though I had no way to play it.

“Fishing Junks at Sunset” combines traditional Chinese instruments — the erhu, pipa and guzheng — along with Jarre’s synthesizer and musicians. It’s melancholy and exciting in turns. It fits the experience, so I tailored the slide show to fit the length of the song.

In addition to the technological ease, the show is beautiful and exactly what I want it to be. Extra points for anyone who finds the “half-head” in the video clip below. ❤

Rosy Fingers and Golden Arms

I’m enjoying the slow convergence of dawn with my waking up time. Pretty soon we’ll be “at one.” Just in time, too, because it will be “colder than a well digger’s ass,” and I won’t be able to open the back door and leave it open for the dogs until I get up a couple of hours later. That door opens to the laundry room, and the pipes would freeze. Yep. That’s how things are out here in the Back of Beyond.

Dawn has labored long as a metaphor. One of the coolest (long…) moments in my undergraduate life was reading The Odyssey in Homeric Greek and one of the coolest moments of that was learning to read, “Rosy fingered dawn.” Back in those days, when poetry was recited not read, little devices — like repetition — added music to the recital and probably made the long poems easier to remember. I honestly cannot see the dawn without, in my mind, thinking, “Rohodoctulous hos.” (ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς) Dawn — Aurora — wore a saffron robe, had golden arms and red fingers.

My two favorite literary dawn bits are in Thoreau’s Walden.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”

“All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, “All intelligences awake with the morning.” Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes…are the children of Aurora… To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.”


Meanwhile, here in Colorado, the San Luis Valley is an island of sunshine on this Thursday morning while most of the state is enduring snow, high winds and frigid temperatures. The very cold temps will arrive here tonight. So, yesterday I winterized the front garden with the leaves that have already fallen from the trees in front of my house. My corner of the world — on the map above — shows dry roads (beige lines) and clear skies while all around? Purple (high wind) and blue (snow and ice). Highways and mountain passes have closed (red dots), people are skidding right and left. No one is EVER ready for this. Luckily, it will only last three days…for now.

Thomas Hardy vs. Grief

In Tenebris

Thomas Hardy

Percussus sum sicut foenum, et aruit cor meum.” —Ps. ci.

Wintertime nighs; 
But my bereavement-pain 
It cannot bring again: 
Twice no one dies. 

Flower-petals flee; 
But, since it once hath been, 
No more that severing scene 
Can harrow me. 

Birds faint in dread: 
I shall not lose old strength 
In the lone frost’s black length: 
Strength long since fled! 

Leaves freeze to dun; 
But friends can not turn cold 
This season as of old 
For him with none. 

Tempests may scath; 
But love can not make smart 
Again this year his heart 
Who no heart hath. 

Black is night’s cope; 
But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

Long long ago in a dormitory not so far away — five hours — I was confronted with this poem. At the time my dad was in a nursing home in Colorado Springs, his life suspended between a reclining wing-backed chair and a coma. Most Fridays I got on the Continental Trailways bus which I caught at the terminal in downtown Denver. Thinking about it, I can still smell the winter air and diesel wafting from the cold garage into the bus terminal waiting room with its chrome-armed benches and light green plastic upholstery from which the original pattern of pale ice cubes remained only on the sides where no one sat. $1.85 to get to Colorado Springs. I always had that, whatever expenses the week brought.

I stepped up the three steps with my little blue suitcase carrying homework and underwear (backpacks hadn’t become “the thing” yet), and handed my ticket to the conductor and took my seat by the window. Sometimes there was someone sitting beside me with stories to tell, often not. I wondered if my boyfriend would meet my bus or my mom. Usually it was my boyfriend, a man I later married, but that’s a subject for a blog post that will remain unwritten.

“Go see your dad,” said my mom when I walked in the front door, as if I needed to be told.

Whatever I found at the nursing home, I stayed. If he were lying in a coma, I did homework. If he were sitting up, we talked. By that time his speech was very garbled and he often used a Ouija board (imagine!) as an alphabet board to spell out the words he wanted to speak. He would point with his finger — spastic though his hands were, frustrating though it was for this short-tempered Irishman — and we would talk, sometimes for hours. He would tell me what to buy my mom to give her for Christmas, birthday, anniversary from him. His gifts to my mom were always something lovely. I would go to the new mall, The Citadel, filled with importance, carrying the checkbook that was our joint checking account, make the purchase and buy a mushy card on which Dad would scrawl what he could of the words, “I love you, Bill.” I always hoped that a gift would fix everything. I wonder if my dad hoped that, too.

Then the day came when I learned once and forever that hope is not enough. That paradoxical human thing without which we cannot live, but which cannot, in itself, keep anything alive, except itself. Hardy’s poem, which had been completely incomprehensible to me when I studied it the year before my father’s death, suddenly made too much sense, but it had a message I’ve retained all my life, “Twice no one dies…” followed by, “

… But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

I spent the next three months pretty much alone at school, avoiding friends, studying, trying to make sense of life without my best friend. My dad’s death was a rocket that shot me into a universe none of my peers seemed to inhabit. I could see them from a distance, but I couldn’t hear them.

It took a L–O–N–G time to understand hope, and, again, Thomas Hardy (whose poetry I had in a HUGE book, The Poems of Thomas Hardy, by that time, not just in my even HUGER anthology of Victorian poetry) spoke to me in his poem, “The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Featured photo: Bus station in Colorado Springs back in the day… My dad had multiple sclerosis, diagnosed when he was 27, died when he was 45. I was 20.

Baby Duck Update

It looks like the As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder book launch is going to happen. It’s going to be cookies and tea, a small raffle and talk, and a 10 minute slide show running in a loop at a separate table. The event will probably be only an hour long, maybe a little more if people want to hang around. I’ll be holding it at the local independent bookstore, The Narrow Gauge Bookstore (which is a coop) in Alamosa. It’s a really charming old-school store that I like very much though I don’t shop there because it’s 20 miles away, and I’m no one’s market at this point in my life, I’m afraid.

I have had a LOT of fun putting the slide show together! Yesterday on Facebook I asked for comments regarding what people would like to see at the launch and got a lot of good help from that.

It’s going to be about 10 minutes long and self-narrating as the slides have captions. I don’t want to reveal everything that’s in the book and I don’t want to put anyone through those grueling slide shows I remember as a child. I see the slide show more as a teaser, you know, “Whoa these are cool, so what’s the story???”

By the way, if you’ve read Baby Duck and would care to leave a short review, it would be very helpful to me as part of this event will be a little sheet about the book and what readers have thought. So far three people have said anything — a reader reviewed it on Facebook. My thesis advisor reviewed it in a letter. A reader in India reviewed it on Amazon India. I am very grateful to anyone who takes a few minutes to write something. Reviews help me sell books and ultimately help the little bookstore stay in business. 🙂

To leave a review on Amazon just go there and search “As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder.” Then scroll down to the end of the page to “Leave a Review”. This link should work.

To leave a review on Facebook, just go to Baby Duck’s page and click, “Leave a Review” This should be the link to that location.

To leave a review on Goodreads, here’s a link.

Slower Times

By the time we moved to Colorado in 2014, Mindy T. Dog (RIP 2018) was an elderly dog with bad hips. Bad hips and being unable to keep up NEVER stopped her interest in a good walk but she was s—l—o—w. Dusty and I would walk at our usual pace and then wait for Mindy to catch up. She wanted the whole walk. She didn’t like it when we turned around before she’d seen everything. Toward the end, the inevitable “last walk” (that’s not a euphemism) occurred. She wanted to go but the alley was her limit. She turned around on her own. You can read about Mindy’s adventures here, in the great Saga, “Princess Mindy and the Vast Monster of Snow.”

I have learned the wonders of a slow walk during the last few years. For a long time, walking 4 mph or faster in the back country, I joyed in the motion. I still saw a lot of things and would stop for many of them (a bobcat crossing the trail, a group of deer in the distance, hawks in the sky — the list is long and I don’t want to bore you [further]). But when I was not able to walk well at all and a mile took an hour, I learned to savor the whole thing. The result is that my big livestock guardian dog, Bear, as a puppy, learned to walk that way. When we’re OUT there, she thinks we should stop often. We don’t hurry and we DO stop often, but now a normal Bear walk is twice as fast. Still slow, but there’s a chance we’ll finish before the end of time.

I learned from the slow walks that 1) there’s really no place to go and 2) every place to BE. I’d like to go faster, but it’s really not important as it was 20 years ago. And, I never would have witnessed monarch butterflies copulating 20 years ago…or stopped long enough to get shredded by a horsefly.